Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Tribes? Give Me A Break.

There is this odd phenomenon in circles I'm a part of to use the word "tribe" to describe communities that people are a part of...religious, social, economic...it's really not important what they are describing themselves as a part of.

Only, the thing is...these people are predominately white, middle to upper middle class, educated, and have a significant amount of power and privilege because of those things. And it is because of those things that I have to speak out. As a person who is also highly educated, white, and of significant financial means (among other markers of power) it is my duty to call people out on their racist behavior. It's my duty to make space for people to feel uncomfortable with their word choices, it's my duty to stand on the side of the oppressed.

"But Alex!", you might say, "Tribe is not just a word to describe Native Peoples...it also is used to describe the 12 tribes of Israel, it's used in Sub-Saharan Africa to describe communities of people, hell! It's the name of the fans of the Cleveland Indians. It's perfectly acceptable for us to use it".

Only, you're wrong.

Maybe you want to argue that it simply means a social grouping of like minded people.

Wrong again.

See, words have power. Anyone who has ever been bullied knows this. Words mean things. In North America, our association with the word "tribe" is not primarily talking about ancient nomadic peoples, nor is it to describe communities of African Nationals (though, in that context to, there is often much imperialism and romanticizing that happens in regards to the word). In North America, for hundreds of years, tribe has been used to describe communities of Native Americans.

So, when we just take over the word Tribe to describe our own white bourgeois communities we are once again playing into the oppressive system which has, for centuries, been treating Native Peoples as if they are even lower on the ladder of humanity than our sisters and brothers of black skin or brown skin or yellow skin. We are once again appropriating a culture that does not belong to us and using it because it is trendy (how many halloween costumes did you see this year where people were dressed like racial stereotypes, including Indians?) and we have no place in doing that. We can learn from Native Peoples, we can accompany Native Peoples, we can begin working to reconcile with Native Peoples...but we can never even start those processes if we KEEP taking what is culturally theirs.

Especially as people of faith, we need to consider our use of language in regards to all people, but especially Native People. If we continue to steal language in the way our ancestors stole land and lives, we are playing into the sin of racism just like they did. So, we can keep on sinning in our "Lutheran Tribe" or we can work to put an end to our sins, and to the oppression of Native Peoples around the country and world.

My friend Meredith eloquently said of Christ Followers:

We, as white people, have the power to choose whether or not we allow hateful language that makes people feel like they're being told they're worthless. As a Christ-follower, I sure as hell don't want someone to feel defeated because I was too good to stop using a word that hurt them. Find another word to describe a collection of people.

I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge what I perceive to be what is happening with this phenomenon. It seems to me that people want a word to describe themselves and their community. I think even more than that, people want a community. So, let's figure out a different word and not take one that doesn't belong to us, culturally speaking. And beyond that, let's actually build community among our neighbors. But, regardless of the intention of the term's use...let's please find another one.

We took their Land and we took their Lives...let's not continue to take things from Native Peoples.

(a disclaimer-I realize this is not an all encompassing blog post...feel free to comment at your will, but if you attack me or other people, I'll have to pound on you)

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

A sermon about how Jesus is rude sometimes and how God is nearby always

Sermons are better when you hear them...I promise. Listen here:

Grace, Mercy, and Peace to you from the Holy Trinity. Amen.

This week, on my last week as your vicar, Jesus talks about causing division and how he didn't come to bring peace to the earth. Which, I hope isn't a prophetic message about me leaving...I pray you all stay House For All Sinners and Saints and that there aren't a whole group of you who break off and follow me to Chicago in protest of me leaving. Because, you'd miss out on a fabulous community and I couldn't give you communion. Plus, it would just be weird.

I was even tempted to not preach on this passage today, because I find it pretty uncomfortable...instead of a shiny happy Jesus like we see in pictures, with a perfectly manicured beard and white robes, and the sun placed just perfectly behind his freshly Aveda conditioned locks of hair...instead of that, we have an image of Jesus this week that looks a quite a bit more like the street preacher who came to my college once a year who likely had a theological education that amounted to this small selection of verses that talk about Jesus being kind of rude.

But no matter what your view of Jesus, a God figure that preaches division instead of harmony flies in the face of our bourgeois protestant desire for unity and peace and love. None of which are bad, but they just don't really mesh up with a Jesus who doesn't want everyone to play nice. (Except that bit about drama between Mother-in-laws and daughter-in-laws...that part is pretty easy to understand). And more than that, they certainly don't mesh with a Jesus who is actively destructive, wishing fires to come down and kindle the earth.

So, this week as I was trying desperately not to preach on this gospel story, I spent some time thinking about why I didn't want to preach about it. And it came down to me thinking that this story was about Jesus creating division between people who are more-or-less good, people like you and me. And I just couldn't reconcile a God who randomly picks some people and ignores other people with the God that I know who invites everyone to her table.

This week the Old Testament story from Jeremiah talks about us having a God that is nearby and not far off. To me, those words seemed comforting, God is intimately connected to our lives and our stories, but then I was reading an article by someone who knows more about the Old Testament than I do, and she mentioned that to the people that was written to, God being nearby struck far more terror in them than the notion of a distant and removed God. And the more I thought about it, really thought about a God that is right there, with me all the time, the more I kind of had that same experience. I'm not sure that I want a God that is standing next to me all the time...and I don't imagine I'm alone in this.

I'm sure you don't want God to be right next to you as you gossip to your friend about how much you hate your best friend's new boyfriend and scheme about how to break them up. Or when you have given up on relationships with people and have turned to a relationship with the "private browsing" function of your web browser. Or when you lie to people at community meal about how you are fine, when your mental health or your finances are falling apart, just to keep up appearances.

I know I don't want a God who is right next to me when I shoot off a text to the person sitting next to me in class that makes fun of the guy next to her...and especially not when I'm full of guilt when that guy drives into a lake. I don't want God to be nearby when I don't correct the cashier who charged me for small avocados when they were actually large ones. I don't want God to be up in my business knowing that I snuck a picture in an art museum gallery that I wasn't supposed to take pictures in.

I, for one, would be pretty ashamed, if I believed that God was nearby, and not far off. And so, while I can wax poetic about God being present in my life, and in nature, and the Holy Spirit's breath being in every person on earth...I still like to trick myself into believing that God is far off, somewhere on a cloud, playing games of bowling to make it thunder. Like it was much more comfortable for Jeremiah's people to think God was off in the distance, I suspect that all of us are in the same boat as them. It's much more comfortable with a God we think we can hide parts of ourselves from. It's certainly more comfortable believing that God is in the cosmos not really paying attention to the day to day business we find ourselves in.

What would it mean if God was nearby? I think a Nearby God means we would have to tell the truth about ourselves. A Nearby God would mean that trying to hide parts of us that we don't like doesn't work...what we try to hide with will get burned away, leaving us pretty vulnerable...and exposing who we really are.

This year you all have taught me about God being nearby. I've seen each of you, in different ways, live your life believing...really trusting that God is nearby. This lets you tell the truth about yourselves, it frees you to live life in a way that isn't trying to hide part of yourself from God, but rejoices that God is present in your lives, and that you don't need to be afraid of him. You've taught me that when parts of us get consumed in the flames Jesus talks about, that those parts of ourselves are really meant to be burnt away in the first place, so that we can be our true selves in the presence of God and of one another. So, I rejoice that Christ burns away the shame I might feel with a nearby God, and lets me live as a saint *and* a sinner in the arms of God.

You've taught me that instead of running from one happy thing to another, like a frog jumping on lily pads and never getting in the water, that I can take the jump into myself, to let myself experience all that life has to offer, not just the good parts. And that I can do that because I have a God that is nearby, present in my life...to love and cherish me as I am, not who I pretend to be.

And I don't believe that it is an accident that you truly believe in and experience a nearby God who burns just enough of you to leave you telling the truth. Because every single week you come here and hear the promises of God in words proclaimed. You come and eat and drink the body and blood of Christ, becoming what you receive. You believe in a God nearby because God is present in the meal at the table, and through eating and drinking, Christ works in you, transforming you, giving you the freedom to live in the presence of a nearby God.

I'm grateful for this God of ours. Because when it sucks this much to leave a place that I am incredibly fond of, I know that God is with me, in grief and sadness and tears, and I can leave knowing that God is with all of you as well and that we are all, and will always be, connected to one another in the body of Christ, surrounded by the great cloud of witnesses, wrapped in the arms of the Holy Spirit. And my prayer for all of you is this; that God continue to work in your life, burning away all the parts of you that keep you from being who you really are, a created and beautiful child of God. Amen.

Monday, August 12, 2013

A sermon about Italian Handbags and where you put your treasure

Sermons are better when you listen to them...listen here:

Grace, Mercy, and Peace to you from the Holy Trinity. Amen.

So, this week, there is a line in the gospel text about carrying handbags that won’t wear out in order to get to heaven...or something like that. And so, I thought it might be a great object lesson to buy a selection of Italian leather purses, display them, and discuss the pros and cons of Coach vs. Louis Vuitton...all as a way to illustrate what God *really* meant by making sure your handbag won’t wear out before you get to heaven.

But last week a sage internship supervisor told me that my last few sermons have been kind of heavy on the gay themes, and so obviously the illustration I had planned wouldn’t really do.

Plus, there is a lot of tricky business that I would have run up against. Like Jesus’ words to sell your possessions. Which doesn’t work if I had just spent thousands on designer bags.

This put me back at the drawing board, with a lot of instructions from Jesus. These instructions, while good for people who need someone to lay out their lives for them and give them rules about how to live a “Godly life” like the disciples who begged Jesus to tell them how to live, well, they aren’t so good for a group of people like you all, who are trying to figure out how to live in that grey area of life where it’s okay to grow your own food and shop at goodwill *and* still carry around any number of iProducts at any given time...you all get that Biblical rules for living are great ideals, but are often strictly unattainable in our society.

But, in the middle of this list of instructions from Jesus, I was struck by one thing he said: “Where your Treasure is, there your heart will be also”. Maybe it got stuck in my head because 6 years ago my pastor spent 7 weeks preaching 7 different sermons on this story in preparation for our annual pledge drive and this was the title of each sermon...but I suspect it was something else that got me stuck on this instruction from Jesus. I got stuck on it because I was thinking about my own treasures, and where my heart was and how what I treasure, and where my values are placed are focused on God...and how they aren’t.

Believe it or not, sometimes my heart doesn’t follow Jesus as much as it should and it instead follows other things...like when I read Buzzfeed instead of the Bible...or when I spend too much money at Lush instead of giving that money to the church...or when I roll up my window at the corner of Colorado Blvd. and Colfax so that I can pretend that the guys panhandling aren’t even there instead of recognizing that they too are children of God, worthy of love. All these things are where I put my treasures...and my heart goes there too...focusing on stuff that seems easy or calming or freeing, when really it just helps me avoid the difficult, but life giving, business of following Jesus.

I don’t think that this issue with my heart actually has much to do with my salvation...I mean, I don’t think that my salvation is in jeopardy because I decided on netflix instead of volunteering...or any other thing that takes my heart away from following Jesus completely. I think instead it has everything to do with Jesus’ last words in the story today: “no one knows the day when the Son of Man will return.”

I’m not talking about how these two verses have been linked together in the past....that if my heart is focused on Jesus, then I’ll get the treasure (which is heaven) when Jesus comes unexpectedly. Growing up, I had immense fear of the message that last verse told me (according to my evangelical friends). According to them, that verse meant that I could be raptured at any time, and I needed to constantly be vigilant about not sinning. Combined with other apocalyptic verses about families getting split up in the rapture and the hype around the Left Behind series, this all added up to quite a bit of fear for a child. So much so that one day when my parents didn’t come home on time from work, I just knew that they had been raptured and I hadn’t been on my game when it came to confessing my sins and living a holy life.

Instead of that abusive use of scripture, I was thinking this week that the verse about no one knowing when the Son of Man will return might also be talking about not knowing when or how Christ will come into our lives and change our value system...focusing it on God and changing our hearts. So when Jesus talks about treasure and our hearts, and not knowing when he will return, maybe he’s talking about us and if what we put our values leave us ready for God to come and change our lives, or not.

I think that,if we put a lot of value in “our church”, we blind ourselves from seeing how God is being present to us in the strangers who come through the doors. If we value our mortgage payment above everything else, maybe we can’t see how God works in someone’s life when they receive rental assistance thanks to money that is donated to DenUM. If we value living in a superficial emotional world maybe we can’t see that God speaks to us when we are able to listen to the deep truth of our emotions. If we put our values in food to make us happy, maybe we miss out on a multitude of people who are ready to love us as we are...broken and hurting. Putting our values in places other than Christ often times serve to build up walls to protect us and keep us from experiencing those unexpected times and ways in which God changes our lives.

See, our values...the things we give our hearts away to...the places we stash our treasures...our values sometimes keep us chained to seeing the world as we want to see it, instead of how God sees it. Our values, our hearts, can prevent us from seeing God’s creative work in the world, making things new.

After all, that’s what God promises to do. God is constantly creating and recreating the world and our lives in unexpected and incredible ways. God is constantly freeing us from ourselves and from others that hold us captive to ourselves and to treasures that don’t even have the slightest ability to save us. And maybe when our treasure is placed in God...maybe when we place our value in Christ...we’ll be surprised at how God works in our life and can begin to see what God is up to in our lives.

Maybe it looks like compassion for your boss, who you’ve hated for far too long, when you have a moment of empathy for them in the office. Maybe it looks like letting yourself pray for your passive aggressive mother in law instead of just resenting her outright. Maybe it looks bigger, like taking the bread and the wine and feeling the spark of God inside you, transforming you and making you realize that you are a child of God, not a child of the academic industrial machine. Maybe it looks like making the painful decision to pack up and leave a place you call home because you have faith that you are called to be in a different place.

This new life that God creates and recreates in us happens even though we often can’t point to the day or hour when Christ comes into our lives to transform us. And even though we can’t point to the day when Christ changes us, we can see how it happens, and why it happens. In eating and drinking of Christ’s body and blood at the table, we open ourselves and our hearts to God’s presence. Being together as the body of Christ, we can place our treasures and with that, our hearts, into the promise of God in Christ to free us from the values that we so desperately try to call God...even when they are not.

Monday, July 29, 2013

A Sermon about taking our chances with prayer

Sermons are better when you listen to them!

Grace, Mercy, and Peace to you from the Holy Trinity. Amen.

On Wednesday night, I went to the Colorado Symphony Orchestra concert of music from John Williams and other movie composers. The second act was 6 songs from Star Wars, which was pretty epic in itself, but the conductor was dressed like Yoda. In between the cantina band song and Princess Leia's theme song, he rattled off a list of top 10 signs you might be a Star Wars geek. One of them was the following: "you're the drunkest you've ever been in your life and you still know that the chances of successfully navigating an asteroid field are 3,720 to 1".

You may or may not be a Star Wars fan, but anyone can see those odds are not very good. Generally though, when playing games of chance, the odds rarely are in our favor. We're not likely to win the lottery or get rich from the slots, nor are we likely to get hit by lightning or become as famous as Madonna.

So in a world where chances are almost always stacked against us, Jesus' message in the Gospel story today of "ask and you shall receive, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you" seems like a pretty good deal.

And after reading the story, I spent quite a bit of time this week thinking about times when I've asked for things in a prayer and the results of those requests. Like the time when I spent a good portion of my childhood asking to not be gay, only to be disappointed every morning when I still had a crush on the hot football player. (and thank God that one didn’t get answered how I wanted) Or when I prayed really hard that I would get into one of the college theatre programs I applied to and really wanted to go to, only to get a rejection letter from the chair of the department. Or when I was a chaplain in a hospital and the grandmother of a young patient asked me to pray for her granddaughter to live when her heart stopped beating, and she wasn't able to be resuscitated. But then I thought about the time when I asked to be your vicar, and...well...here I am.

It got me wondering, what are the odds of asking for something in prayer actually being delivered the way we want. Looking at our Facebook page just this week gave me hope in prayer results, people who have been cured of cancer, speaking engagements that went well, interviews being successful.

So maybe there is something about House For All Sinners and Saints that makes us really good at getting our prayers answered ‘correctly’. But I know that success stories about prayer, while heartening, and joyful, still take a back seat to ones that are answered in different ways than we would like. The prayers of the people often lament at the death of loved ones, or challenge God to give an answer to why someone is not healing from their diseases, or why the asker can’t seem to hold a job.

It’s heartbreaking to hear these prayers not get answered the way the person wants, week after week...to the point where I occasionally want to interject in the middle of the prayers “we pray for the same things week after week, why don’t you do something about it, God?”

When it comes to our prayers being answered how we would like them to be, God seems fickle at best, and certainly nothing like what Jesus is appearing to tell us today in the Gospel story: Ask...seek...knock...and you’ll get it. Which gives us a view of God as a divine gumball machine, or a magician who does fancy tricks to appease us. But the resulting God is disappointing at best....much like a soda bottle that gets stuck in the machine, or Gob Bluth from Arrested Development.

This week, after reading and re reading this story, trying to find a way to get God off the hook, or explain away Jesus’ seemingly false promise with some fancy theological acrobatics, I finally just read the last sentence. Jesus tells the people he’s been talking to “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him”

And it hit me that Jesus doesn’t promise a new Lexus to his disciples, or perfect relationships with family members, or the dream job they’ve been looking for (other than being disciples, of course). What he does promise though, is the Holy Spirit to anyone who asks, or seeks, or knocks.

And I think that instead of getting God off the hook for not doing things, Jesus’ promise of the Holy Spirit totally turns our modern view of God upside down. The prevalent view of God orchestrating the entire universe, controlling our happiness and our sadness, controlling good things that happen and pouring out evil on deserving people gets thrown out the window. As does a view of a God that can be manipulated by enough people asking for the same thing. What Jesus tells us about God in this story changes the odds of prayers getting answered to favor us because he promises the Holy Spirit. When Jesus promises the Holy Spirit as the answer to our prayers, he shows us a God that exists to live with and care for his children.

Just like God showed up in the cross 2000 years ago, in the middle of torture, pain, and agony, God shows up in our vulnerable and painful moments. God shows up through the Spirit in our lives, being present with us in the pain we feel when yet another job opportunity falls flat. The Spirit surrounds us when we stand at the bedside of our parents, or our grandparents, or our friends, as their health continues to fail. The Spirit is present in us in the personal torments we have when try to tell God that we aren’t interested in the sexual orientation we have been blessed with.

In these moments, when we pray and ask God for whatever it is that we want, we receive the Spirit, which will hold us and give us a peace that passes all understanding. Those moments of prayer, when we are vulnerable and in pain is when God shows up to walk with us, carry us, and hold us in God’s arms. And so, prayer, while it might not give you what you want, can give you what you need. It can give you the presence of the Spirit through a group of people who hold you in difficult times, and promise to kick some ass for you if needed, or come and distract you while your family argues, or become a family when yours has disowned you. God’s gift of the Spirit to us can show up when we grieve the loss of employment on facebook and are surrounded with people’s voices of encouragement early in the morning. The Spirit can show up in a friend who makes us sit and breathe for 2 minutes when we are anxious about having to say goodbye to people and places we love.

And the Spirit shows up to rejoice with us in our joys. When chemotherapy works and doctors can’t find any trace of cancer left, we’re not alone in our rejoicing...God is present with us. When we get the chance to go back to college and follow our dreams, the Spirit is present in all the joy and anxiety we experience. The Spirit shows up in the waters of Baptism, joining our voices of praise when Rafi is named by God as one of God’s children. The Spirit comes to be among us at the table, where we are fed and nourished with the body and blood of Christ.

So try it out...ask....seek....knock...the odds are 100% in your favor that the Holy Spirit’s presence will be with you.

Monday, July 15, 2013

A story about grace in the most unexpected places

Sermons are way better to listen to...and it will probably take you the same amount of time to listen!

Grace, Mercy, and Peace to you from the Holy Trinity.  Amen. 

Today we read the parable of the Good Samaritan, possibly the most popular, or at least the most familiar parable that Jesus ever told.  

Which makes it tempting to preach on the other readings, since this story of the Good Samaratin is so woven into our cultural fabric, into our cliches, and into the aisles of Hallmark, Precious Moments stores, and those Willow Tree Angel figurines.  The town I grew up in is pretty famous for its Christmas light displays and one house had an elaborate display of moving lights and a story that you could listen to as you watched the lights change by tuning your car radio to a specific frequency.  It was the story of the Good Samaritan, surrounded on both ends by the birth of Jesus...essentially telling us by the ending line of the script that Jesus was our good samaritan, and would help us with all our woes.  It was schmaltzy to say the least.  

So the Good Samaritan isn’t exactly that revolutionary of a story...since it is a story about doing good things for other people.  

And it has spawned a lot of good – or at least the term Good Samaritan has been adopted by organizations that have done a lot of Good....there are Good Samaritan laws which protect caregivers from lawsuits, there are Good Samaritan hospitals, which do a lot of work for medically underprivileged folks.  There are Samaritan houses which are shelters for folks who don’t have homes of their own.  I even saw on Google that there is a Good Samaritan pet shelter for furry friends who find themselves lost on the side of the road.  

I don’t want to belittle this work, because it is indeed work that is worthy of praise and support, and I don’t at all want to say that this is an incorrect understanding of this parable.  It’s just that Jesus doesn’t tell the story of the Good Samaritan in order to say that to inherit eternal life is to do good. He tell this story in response to the question, “who is my neighbor?”

So, Jesus’ answer to the question who is our neighbor was pretty revolutionary at the time...it meant that your neighbor wasn’t just those in your own community, but your neighbor was simply anyone who wasn’t yourself. People you love and people you hate. It still means that, and it still is pretty revolutionary.  I’d much rather stay at home with a glass of wine and a good book than go out and risk finding a connection with the person who has exactly all the opposite beliefs from me.  And yet, Jesus calls us to love our neighbor, which for me probably especially means that I need to work on my relationship with the GOP.

But, this week, as I was reading the story of the Good Samaritan, a story of  how a guy gets beaten up and left for dead on the side of the road while a priest and a holy man walk past because they can’t be bothered with helping him, before a foreigner finally helps the guy out by taking him to an inn and pays for all of his medical expenses,  it dawned on me that maybe this story is ALSO about something else besides just doing good things for people you’d rather see suffer...or just ignore all together. 

And the beauty with parables is that you get to put yourself somewhere in the story, and I didn’t want to put myself in the shoes of the good samaritan because I’ve heard enough sermons in my life about how this story means I need to go do more things for other people and how bad I am at loving my neighbor that I didn’t want to subject you to the same thing...so that left me with the innkeeper who was paid to help him, the priest and holy man that couldn’t be bothered, the robbers who beat the guy up in the first place, or the man on the side of the road.  

And after thinking about myself in each of these positions, I realized that I at times play the role of each one, but found myself drawn to the story of the man who was left by the side of the road, beaten, and left for dead.  

I’m not attempting to glorify suffering, or any stupid thing like that, but I feel like being left on the side of the road might be a pretty common feeling.  Maybe sometimes you feel like you’re the beaten man by  Churches that have forced you to do all the work and you got burnt out.  Or by parents that have literally kicked you out of the house and cut you off because you came out.  Or by people who have bullied you into not speaking out on Facebook, or in real life.  Or by bosses who give you unfair performance evaluations. 

But, I know for me, when other people lay into me, I am able to bounce back up, with the help of the friends, therapists,  and family members...who help me to get back on my feet, psychologically, and move on without too much lasting damage or regret or fear of the person who hurt me.  But that is where I EXPECT that help to come from.

I wonder if the man in the story expected the priest and the holy man to help him.  Since they were supposed to be people who were good and followed the law, and presumably would have compassion...and that's what priests are for, right?  

I had written earlier this week that it was difficult to understand exactly what Samaritans were like in the first century...but I think that is untrue.  Samaritans, like black kids who walk down the streets of white neighborhoods at night, were subjected to false stereotypes, stereotypes that placed them outside the circles of compassion and kept them there.  Samaritans were the people you didn’t want to hang around with because they were different, the people that, as they were walking toward you on the same sidewalk, made you cross the street...and you certainly wouldn’t expect Samaritans to help you at all.  

 And yet, that is who helped the man on the side of the road.  The unexpected person, the man who no one would imagine would help a local.  The grace that the beaten man received came from the last person he would have expected.  
Which is the nature of grace, isn't it?  Sometimes grace comes from the most unexpected places, instead of the places we want it to come from.  Maybe you expect  help to come in the form of everyone living up to your high standards...but then it comes when the world doesn’t end when you fail at something.  Maybe you expect help to come from a church that won't let you down and won't disappoint you....but it really comes when you are forgiven by passing the peace with the person you resent.  Maybe you expect help to come in the form of everyone loving you and thinking you are put together and successful...but it really comes when you are loved for who you really, really are instead of for some shiny improved version of yourself.

Maybe the surprise of grace is finally just hearing the voice of God saying "you are worthy of being loved and I will walk through the darkest parts of your life with you so you don't have to do it alone"...instead of running to the fridge when no one is watching or the boyfriend who won’t love you well, or the ‘emergency cigarette’ pack that is your third one this week. Maybe grace looks like eating and drinking the body and blood of Christ and being transformed and feeling something change in you....instead of trying to take on the whole world on your own, discounting that you are created and loved, in the image of God.

You see, the thing about grace is....it often doesn't look like what we want or expect it to look like.  Which is good, because if grace looked like perfect churches, or our own willpower, or other people doing exactly what we want them to do, the world would be less like the kingdom of God and more like the kingdom of us.  Instead, in spite of our expectations for what grace looks like, grace ends up often being like the Samaritan: exactly the opposite of what we are hoping for, and yet more freeing than we could ever imagine.  Amen.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

A sermon about a Judgey Jesus who reaches out to us...instead of the other way around.

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from the Holy Trinity.  Amen.

I think that sometimes the people who wrote down the Gospels did not have Lutheran Preachers in mind when they did it.  Because Lutherans like to preach law and gospel, that is, the law is stuff that convict us makes us understand our broken nature and the gospel is stuff that points us to the work of the crucified and risen Christ in our lives.  And this story that we just read doesn't seem to have much gospel in it, or even law for that matter...it seems to just be a story of cranky pants Jesus who doesn't like anything that anyone says.  People who want to follow him are shut down, people who don't want to follow him are shut down, people who have some reservations about the whole thing are shut down.

Which isn't that great to hear in a group of people who are gathered around and presumably want to try their best to follow Jesus.  

Even the disciples, who are always around Jesus, and in Luke's gospel sort of understand who Jesus is, and do a pretty good job of following him get told off by Jesus.  Though, that honestly was probably for the best, since the disciples figured the best option for getting back at the town that wouldn't host Jesus was to throw cosmic fireballs at the city and make it burn to the ground...which would have been the first in a long line of self righteous Christians making a mess of things.  

At House, sometimes we talk about gospel stories having the 'Worst Good News Ever' when the good news means loving your enemies or praying for those who persecute you.  and I'm tempted to say that about this story, but at first glance there appears to be no law, or gospel. So, instead of 'Worst Good News Ever', maybe this story about judgey Jesus should be labelled 'no good news ever'

Unless you want to consider it good news that Jesus was exactly like us...sort of cynical, prone to being pissed off at people for no reason, irritated that he couldn't find a last minute hotel room but really being mad because he just should have booked it on Priceline the week before...if that kind of Jesus is good news for you...the one that is exactly like us, then great.  

But I always try to look for a little more in Jesus than just the ways in which he was human and acted like every other human in history.  Because while Jesus was fully human, and experienced human emotions and reactions to situations he was put in, he was also God.  Which is an important distinction between Jesus and myself...because try as I might, I just won't ever get to be divine.  

And so as I was considering my place in the universe as someone who is Not God, I sort of stumbled across what I think this story is getting at, instead of it just being some sort of weirdly worded rant from Christ.

A couple weeks ago we had our very first theology pub of the summer at the Irish Snug where we talked about different ways to read the Bible...and how  a Lutheran understanding of scripture is pretty radical compared to what most people here were taught to believe.  And in that discussion, several people mentioned how in their past, the Bible had been used as something that would be like a prescription for how to get closer to God.  In reading scripture and doing exactly what it says to do (or not do, as the case may be) these people were told that they would feel a deep personal connection to Jesus in their hearts.  Worship was supposed to do the same thing, they said.  Going to church meant you'd get on fire for The Lord and know that he was dwelling in your heart.  

Except, as many people noted, that didn't always happen...and they would leave bible study or worship feeling like Jesus didn't love them because they couldn't feel him in their heart .

Church folks had given them a prescription for how to follow Jesus….a single right way to be a disciple, and when it didn't work, it hurt them.  

It's pretty tempting to try to make our way God in any number of ways, and to try to be like Jesus  in all we do so that we are more holy, or more righteous, or perhaps because we want to be better than those people around us.  Maybe it looks like mining scripture verse by verse to figure out how to live.  maybe it looks like a weekly morning hike to see God in the sunrise.  maybe it looks like overcommitting at church and trying to do everything for everyone.  And in an age where Choose your own adventure books were standard childhood reading, we want to be able to just pick and choose the things that will get us closer to God, and pick the timeline on which to do them.

The guys in the story that Jesus approaches and asks to follow him also want to pick the timeline on which they'll follow God.   Of course they want to follow Jesus, but on their own terms.  One wants to bury his father and then come follow Christ, the other wants to get his affairs in order before making such a large commitment.  Both of which are noble causes, and pretty understandable.  

I totally get this mindset of wanting to follow Jesus on my own terms.  I wouldn't say that my first career choice was to be a pastor (it was actually to be a ranger for the National Park Service). And even once I settled down and realized that park rangers don't get a lot of air conditioning, and that people who paint theater sets, like I had studied to do in college, don't really have the best job security, I still wasn't running towards seminary with my arms out wide, ready to embrace the life of following Jesus for a living...and doing it publicly no less. 

Instead I felt like a better use of my time would be to go to San Francisco and work in the visuals department of Gap's corporate headquarters, spending my days dressing bAby mannequins and flying across the country telling people who worked in stores how to dress inanimate toddlers more fashionably. 

And I thought my cause was noble...seminary is expensive and I wanted to not have tons of debt when I was finished....at the time the ELCA didn't ordain gay people in relationships....I thought some life experience would make me a better pastor....

And yet here I am, right after graduation, I showed up in Chicago to study to be a pastor.  

What I learned from my plans to follow Christ on my own terms is that, in spite of my plans, God stepped in and made something different happen.  

Our plans for following Christ,  our plans for being more spiritual, for being more holy, for being better Christians...be they trying to open our hearts so Jesus can come in during worship or be they marrying a man instead of a woman because that is what the church told you to do...be they trying to read the Bible in a year or be they secretly listening to KLove when your friends aren't around....our plans to follow Christ by volunteering at food pantries or being public defenders, helping the least among us because that is what Christ would do...our plans often seem noble to us. 

Our plans seem noble even when our plan is to abandon the church completely and never look back.

Our plans are often worthy, or noble, or have solid reasons behind them, but in spite of all of our plans, God comes in to complete them because only God can do the work of.  Only God can work Gods plans in our lives and God does so in spite of our own plans...plans to follow, or plans to leave.  

In our plans to reach God, we end up being interrupted by Christ who came down from heaven so that God could reach us.  When we try to choose our own adventure toward God we start to try to do the work that only God can do...which is why when we try to reach God, God works in spite of that and reaches toward us.  God reaches toward us in a meal of bread and wine.  God reaches toward us in the words of a stranger at church who makes us feel welcome instead of alienated.  God reaches out toward us and pulls us closer to herself in a conversation that says its okay to come out of the closet or in a conversation that says its okay that you weren't able to be everything for everyone this week.  God reaches out to us in amusement parks and coffee shops, in sunsets and mountains and the beautifully gritty sidewalks of Colfax, in cathedrals and office buildings, constantly interrupting our meager attempts to reach out and be like God.  And in interrupting us and our plans, God is able to be God for us and with us, loving us unconditionally.  Amen. 

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

An open letter to bleeding heart liberal mainline Christians who want to stand up for those who mourn the decisions of the SCOTUS this morning

There is this Facebook group called "ELCA Clergy" which I am a part of, even though I am not yet ordained.  There is a mighty discussion right now around the biblical idea of rejoicing with those who rejoice, and mourning with those who mourn in regards to the SCOTUS decisions on DOMA and Prop 8.  The premise of the question is about how social media often doesn't leave room for feeling empathy for the 'other' and what we as clergy people can do to level the playing field and mourn with those who are mourning and rejoice with those who are rejoicing'

Here are my two cents on the issue:

It seems that the heart of the question is a very guilt driven desire to be everything for everyone.  And in that mindset the question really looks like this 'I am a bleeding heart liberal Christian who feels immense amounts of guilt when something happens that I can be happy about and I am really afraid that I might offend people who believe something different than me'.  Over functioning at it's finest, really.  

So ultimately, I reject the premise....because over functioning never got anyone anywhere but into a pit of self-misunderstanding and alienation because you cannot provide what people tell you they want from you at all times.

I want to say to these people something like 'I've never known federal protection of my relationship until now goddammit so let me celebrate and celebrate with me' but then they'd go around still feeling guilty that they aren't sympathetic to the bigoted assholes who want to deny my rights as a citizen.  Which still wouldn't solve anything.  

So instead I say to these people who feel guilt for not being able to hold both sides:

I'm not interested in you rejoicing with me and then turning around and apologizing for it to those who don't like it.  I'm not interested because when you do that your integrity cracks open and I can see your inability to stand true to your own beliefs.  I have more respect for a protestor than you, because they at least aren't trying to play on two different fields at once.

From my perspective, when you want to coddle those who are angry, you are sending me a very clear signal that we need to respect those who are hurting more than those who are rejoicing.  This, of course, is the downfall of mainstream Liberal Christianity....we can very rarely allow ourselves to feel joy, especially if there is the slightest chance that might offend someone.  

Let me tell you something though, I've been offended by your complacency as you've sat by and let our country make laws that are unjust.  I've been offended by your unwillingness to see me as a human being when I sit in your pews.  I've been offended by your sideline support when you say you welcome everyone in your churches but 'everyone' means that you still won't talk about ME because you're afraid your big money giving republicans might leave.  I've been offended when you assume that I'm straight because I'm a man.  I'm offended when you insinuate in your boundaries training that I shouldn't interact with children because people might think I want to touch them.  I'm offended by your watering down of the gospel to say 'lets sing kumbyah and get along' instead of the radical news of 'love your neighbor' which means that the people who disagree with me get communion too and I have to deal with what it means that Christ invites everyone to his table...and also that I get to be loved by people who hate me for my sexuality....the gospel does not just convict me to love people I'd rather kick to the curb, it convicts them to not kick me to the curb too.  I've been offended that you refuse to see me as a human who is capable of loving one other person and being committed to them.  And I've been offended that it has taken so long for me to be able to be ordained.  

So if I offend you by Facebook statuses that say 'DOMA is Dead' and 'thanks for standing on the right side of history' and 'Equality: Shantay you Stay, DOMA: Sashay away'....if my rejoicing offends you because I'm not worried about the bigot down the street, I'm not sorry.  I'm not sorry that you have to deal with what it means to stand for something.  I'm not sorry that I'm not allowing you to over function  at me and tell me I need to be more concerned with the poor oppressors who are now sad than my own joy at finally being able to be treated as a citizen.